Zotero and Onyx Boox - worth it?


I'm asking about the experiences of reading, annotating and especially *extracting quotes* from pdfs via Zotero when using Boox tablet (either Note Air or Lumi) the academic workflow.

I'm aware of this thread about syncing Onyx Boox (https://forums.zotero.org/discussion/86059/synchronisation-between-android-tablet-and-computer). But I'm also interested in how the boox software (neoreader?) works with reading/annotating pdfs and the most appropriate screen size for working with PDFs, ie. Note Air 10.3 or Lumi 13.3. (Is the Air too small, but Lumi a bit unwieldy?).

Apologies, I know this seems like a question more about boox than zotero. Though I'd really appreciate zotero user experiences, as we'e heavily invested in working with PDFs in our academic workflow.

Thanks for any feedback.
  • For a tablet working with Zotero, I would very strongly recommend an iPad. There is an official Zotero iPad in beta testing with a very good PDF reader and annotation
  • It's a trade-off. In my experience e-readers are substantially lighter than iPads, so if you're going to be holding it for long reading articles, I found tablets really tiresome. On the other hand, as bwiernik points out, qua software experience, iPads will beat them easily. Software on e-readers in my experience ranges from non-existent to abysmal.
  • I totally love my onyx boox. It may be that ipads softare is somehow better, but I work with dropsync/dropbox and zotfile and it works well enough: Designate which files you want to move over in zotero, move them with zotfile. Then read and highlight on onyx, and finally move back with zotfile and extract annotations.
    I really appreaciate the fact to not be staring in a another screen. "software on e-readers ranges from non-existent to abysmal" is not true, maybe better say: not polished to the nth degree.
  • Given we don't necessarily have the same problem or desires I think it's possible to look at the same situation and come out with different conclusions. I haven't used an onyx boox, so I cannot speak on that unit in particular, but with the e-readers I've had, certainly for annotation, it's never occurred to me to use the concept of polish to any degree in relation to them.

    That's not to say they can't be incredibly useful, lightweight, targeted-experience devices. I just found the software for PDF annotation -- well, ranging from non-existent to abysmal.
  • Totally agree, but given that the OP specifically asks about onyx boox, and you havent used one, and that the latest onyx boox are quite good and massively faster and smoother than previous e-reader (with usable pen input), why be so disimissive?

    For the OP: I had a 10inch, and moved to a 13inch (boox 3), and much prefer the 13inch, because many academic pdfs do not lend themselves to be shrunk to 10inch size, and zooming in and then moving the pdf is really cumbersome. I would say a 10inch only works if you work in a field where there almost no A4 multi-column pdfs. I mostly ready in a reclining chair and find the 13 inch very comfortable to do so.
  • @migugg thanks for the helpful feedback. In my social sciences field, probably around 80% of pdfs are single column. But I agree, moving around pdfs to view is not a great experience.

    Do you use the native Neo boox pdf reader for annotation?

    With the new version of Zotero, from what I understand, we won't be able to use its default annotation features on an android-based tablet. (I really wish a proper android app was developed).

  • Hi Sanj101. Yes, I use the integrated pdf reader for annotation. I use the new zotero beta version with the new pdf reader and all works fine. Its just that you then work with two different ways of annotating pdfs: the one of boox when you highlight in boox (which then gets extracted via zotfile) and the native zotero when working on a desktop/laptop, which then gets extracted through the native app. There was somewhere a discussion here on the boards of the new zotero pdf reader, that they plan some way to convert external annotations into zotero annotations and the other way round, but I am not sure how this will work and whether it will work for zotero/zotfile.
  • Hi,

    TLDR: get the boox, you won't regret it!

    I've been a fan of pen based input since the apple Newton and had dozens of devices. The boox max at 13 inch is expensive, so I got a small version to test my use cases and bought the full size within a week. That was 3 ago. I'm saving up for the most recent Boox cos they improve processor with every new model.

    IMHO main differentiators:
    13 inch is essential for journal publications in A4 format (the hassle and poor results of reflowing research pdf just isn't worth the effort)
    13 inch is impractical if you're mobile (I got a 3rd party hard cover that's very good but just a bit too big for A4 orientated cases and bags)

    1. The zotero - zotfile - Dropboxsync method works brilliantly. I don't like the built-in neoreader app so I downloaded foxit, but several choice worked just fine. This has been totally transformative for me! I'm actually drafting a book that's been stalled for years because I can finally get over the friction of reading journal articles that aren't in the really-essential-must-read-for-work-today category.
    2. I know this is off topic: the pen based note keeping is just brilliant. It's not a 100% pencil and paper feel but it's much better than any of the many tablet/ laptop + stylus combos I've used before. It's so good that it's replaced the handwritten / scanned note taking workflow I had for client notes. Dropsync uploads the PDF version automatically and if I need it (and stuck to writing in lines instead of a mindmap) then the handwriting recognition is good enough to understand or need little correction.

    The combination of improved daily notekeeping and improved academic literature consumption is why I got the boox and I'm a real fan. As I say: the only thing I'd change is to get a more up to date model.


  • edited March 23, 2022
    I have a boox Max and I use zotero.
    My aim is to achieve seemless workflow, meaning that any changes I make in Zotero desktop are reflected in my reading tabled AND viceversa. Is there a way to achieve this with Boox? If not, is there a way to achieve this with an iPad? If so, I would consider selling my Boox Max and buying an ipad.
  • Hi philosophical,

    what you want works by using dropbox and dropsync. The only thing you need to do is manually select which items you want to move to your sync-folder.
    You could also try the zoo for zotero app, see here: https://www.zotero.org/support/mobile
    it says it allows annotation of pdfs and syncing, so should do the trick, but I have not tried it, because I find operating apps with huge amount of data on boox clumsy, and it is far more convenient to just have the few pdfs there that I am reading, rather than my whole library.
  • Sorry but I think you are wrong. I don’t think that any changes (highlights, annotations , etc) you do on zotero could ever reflect on the boox !
  • I own an onyx boox. I use it almost daily. Any highlights I do on my boox show up if I open the file on my desktop. I am not sure why you need the reverse, but I think this also works. The general workflow is: move from desktop to boox, read and highlight on boox, sync back to desktop. And this works flawlessly.
  • edited March 23, 2022
    Annotations made in the Zotero 6 PDF reader will only show up in Zotero apps (e.g., the new iPad app) unless you transfer them back to the file.

  • edited March 23, 2022
    Ok so migugg was wrong . Annotations made in zotero do NOT show when opened in Boox with the NeoReader
  • edited March 23, 2022
    @dstillman is zotero planning to develop
    An app for android the same way it did for iPhone? Why yes for one but not the other ?
  • Hello, yes, it is worth its purchase. I bought an Onyx Boox Note 2 in 2020 and used Dropbox to transfer files between macOS and Note 2 (academic PDFs). I read and note on Onyx and then upload back to dropbox and finally click on "Get from tablet" on Zotero. Your eyes will show you gratitude if you purchase one. I am pleased, and I will repurchase it if mine gets broken, but it works as fine as the first day. I used the integrated PDF reader/annotation app (I think its name is Neoreader). Also, I get updates from time to time, and it is simply perfect.
  • i bought an onyx boox max 3 specifically to set up a workflow with zotero.

    my situation: i need a way to read tons and tons of articles, take notes, and keep the papers organized. when i did my master's in endocrinology / molecular biology i printed everything out, had stacks of binders, because i need to write with a pen and i can't stand computer screens. but the volume of literature i need to consume is just insane, it's like being hit with a firehose (spent a few years as a research assistant and now phd student in neurosci dept). i grudgingly accepted that i need more modern tools, or i will be buried alive in all the papers i print out.

    how it's working: the onyx is really light, really easy on my eyes, the digital pen is a dream (for me), the ability to keep my metric tons of literature in digital folders and carry a featherweight magical inkscreen instead is a miracle. i snuggle up with my dog and read by a small lamp and it's just as comfortable as paper.

    i have a small tablet and could never use it for this purpose, screens are an awful experience for me and they're much heavier.

    because the comfort of the ereader is so important for me to work, i don't mind it being a little fussier to transfer files. i export from zotero my pdfs to a folder which copies to my boox. i mark up pdfs for my own comprehension as i read, and don't have a huge need to access those annotations later. what the boox does is let me read those papers at all, which would not be possible for me otherwise. i sometimes open a notepad in boox and jot down ideas from certain papers, or note the author/journal/year in a little shortlist. this is the most convenient way for me. i can export notes and also marked pdfs, to a folder on the boox which i copy to my laptop if/when i need.

    in a nutshell: right now it works for me to use zotero as an an amazing pdf gatherer, enjoy being able to read endless pdfs in comfort on boox, also keep a little digital notepad on boox that i copy to my computer for my records. there are probably more sophisticated things i could do, and maybe i will slowly explore them. but the comfort of reading on the large ink screen is unparalleled for me and i can't express how much that has improved my productivity. that is far more important for me, and my own handicaps, than extra polished software.

    hope this helps someone!

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